When Poor Service Wrecks Your Best-Laid Sales Plan

The other day, I was discussing the topic of customer service with Bruce Himelstein, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Kerzner International North America, which owns the Atlantis and One&Only brands.

At first, we talked about how the affluent are shopping for deals these days, willing to go to outlets to purchase their luxury goods rather than rolling up to Bergdorf’s, picking out whatever they want and rolling off again. When the conversation moved on to deals, Bruce, who once served as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ritz-Carlton, and knows a thing or two about luxury service, said he had the perfect example of how sales promotions can go awry.

Seems a while back he received a card in the mail from Barney’s New York, offering him a certain amount off, say $50, if he spent $200. That appealed to him, so he got up, went to Barney’s with the card in his hand, ready to spend. Now, in this economic environment that should be enough to make any salesperson drool, but not so much at Barney’s. Bruce went to the men’s shoe department and started looking around. Already sensing that the nine salespeople were more involved in talking to each other than assisting him, he decided to time how long it would take for one of them to come over to him. He kept busy, picking up shoes, turning them over to look at the soles, but when the wait time for sales help hit 12 minutes, Bruce hit the road. Kind of appalling, no? One customer, driven to the shop by an aggressive sales promotion, is completely ignored by a team of sales associates who were obviously unaware that Barney’s was trying to make some money by selling the wares in its store.

The story made me wonder if travel agencies are ready to assist clients who receive sales promotions via e-mail or snail mail. Perhaps your consortium is sending out targeted flyers to clients in your database, offering a few hundred dollars off a cruise, with free airfare. When they call your office, do your agents know exactly what they are talking about or is their reaction some form of “huh?” or “what?”—making the client sorry they called? Are your agents up to snuff when it comes to suppliers who put out promotions offering a free night or a free breakfast? It’s incredibly difficult to keep up with all of this clutter. However, it’s imperative that the first impression you have on interested clients is that you’re knowledgeable and excited that they’ve responded to a marketing message.

Take it a step further. If you think the deal the customer responds to is not right for them (perhaps they’ve selected a lively, interactive all-inclusive resort when you know they happen to detest most of humankind and prefer to be alone), are you at the ready to direct them to something that’s more appropriate?

While it’s highly unlikely anyone in your agency would do what those in Barney’s did—that is, ignore the customer disdainfully—it’s worth taking a closer look to be sure your colleagues don’t mirror this behavior in any manner at all.

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